Actions will Help Address Youth Obesity Crisis
(Washington, DC – February 7, 2022) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent announcement that the agency will update school meal nutrition standards will help ensure more nutritious school meals for millions of children and adolescents and is an important step toward reversing the nation’s alarming rates of childhood obesity.
The Department announced a stepwise approach, beginning in the next school year. Among the most critical changes are:
- Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, requiring that schools and child-care providers serving children ages six and older offer low-fat, flavored milk, nonfat flavored milk, or nonfat or low-fat unflavored milk.
- Requiring that 80 percent of the grains served in school meals each week are rich in whole grains, beginning with the 2022-2023 school year.
- Requiring a 10 percent decrease in weekly sodium levels in school meals starting with the 2023-2024 school year.
- Beginning the process for more permanent nutrition standards for the 2024-2025 school year.
Importantly, these changes will return nutritional standards for school meals to 2012 levels, which have been found to have dramatically increased the quality of students’ nutrition.
Rising obesity rates are a serious problem among children and adolescents nationwide. According to the latest available data, nearly 20 percent (19.3 percent) of U.S. children ages 2 to 19 have obesity. These data more than tripled since the mid-1970s and Black and Latino youth have substantially higher rates of obesity than do their white peers. The racial and ethnic disparities in obesity underscore the need to address social determinants of health, including food insecurity, access to healthy and nutritious foods, poverty, and other systemic barriers to health.
“These changes in school meal nutrition standards are an important step toward addressing America’s childhood obesity crisis. Millions of U.S. children get a significant proportion of their daily food intake via meals served in school. Evidence shows that ensuring that those meals are high in nutritional value will improve children’s health and help with their school performance and readiness to learn,” said J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., MSCE, President and CEO of Trust for America’s Health.
Learn more about adult and childhood obesity trends and policies to address the obesity crisis in TFAH’s 2021 State of Obesity Report: Better Policies for a Healthier America.